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This post is part of Kirkwood Libraries’ celebration of Choose Privacy Week. To find out about about our privacy contest, please see this post

Did you know you create tons of highly valuable data – data that is sold and shared – simply by browsing online? You’ve probably noticed this when you get an ad in your email, in Facebook, or on another website that surprises you, and you think…”How did they know I’m looking for X?”

This phenomenon is called “behavioral advertising,” and my privacy tip to you today is to be aware of how you’re tracked, often without your consent. It may seem small – after all, do I really care if anyone knows I’m looking for crockpot recipes online, or at library schools, or for a new pair of shoes?

It gets dicier…say you’re doing a paper for a nursing class on Herpes. Then someone uses your computer and notices you’re getting ads for herpes medication? What assumptions do they start to make? See a great illustration of this example here: http://donttrack.us/. I also can’t help but feel a little odd when I realize that my online activity is collected and sold to marketers – some argue it’s like you’re doing work for free, without you knowing it, while someone else cashes in.

There is a movement in the communities concerned with online privacy (including browser developers and search engines) called “Do Not Track.” Learn more about this initiative and why it matters from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF): https://www.eff.org/issues/do-not-track.

My final tip in this area is a cool add-on for the Firefox browser (the best browser for online privacy, in this librarian’s opinion) called Collusion. It shows you who tracks you when you visit any site…and is very eye opening! There are lots of ways to set your web browser to not track you – or at least you can attempt to control tracking – by following these tips from the EFF.

Don’t forget our privacy tip contest! I hope you’ll Choose Privacy this week…and every week.

–Nicole

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